HR Leads Business

Jun 13, 2018 | By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, PHRca, HRCI Director of Test Development

PHR Exam Changes: What Do They Mean for Me?

Changes are coming soon for the exam to earn a Professional in Human Resources® (PHR®) credential from HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). If you are not yet a PHR credential holder, you may be wondering what these changes mean. Let’s take a high-level look at the old PHR, which expires July 31, 2018, compared to the new PHR, which takes effect August 1, 2018:

PHR chart 1

You’ll most likely notice a few things:

  • The new PHR has five sections instead of six.
  • All but one of the section headings has changed.
  • All of the percentage weightings have changed.
  • Two of the sections have nearly doubled in size – Business Management and Employee & Labor Relations.

But what exactly does this mean? The best way to find out is to take a close look at the new 2018 PHR Exam Content Outline, in effect August 1.  You will notice that the outline includes:

  • Fewer responsibility statements in each section.
  • Fewer words in most statements.
  • Less clutter, since the "SPHR only" statements are no longer included.
  • No separate core knowledge section.

If you are already familiar with the current PHR and SPHR Exam Content Outline, combining both certifications and in effect until August 1, either because you have taken the PHR before or you are using study materials that are based on the outline, you may have additional questions:

  • What happened to risk management? It’s still there, but part of it — health, safety, security and privacy — is part of Employee & Labor Relations. Another part of it – recommending ways to mitigate risk — is part of Business Management.
  • Why is Employee & Labor Relations such a big part of the exam? Employee & Labor Relations is a big part of the HR professional’s job. Also, this section now includes part of what used to be Risk Management as well as some competencies that used to be in the Human Resource Development section.
  • Does that mean there are a lot more union questions? No. The Employee and Labor Relations section covers a lot of different responsibilities. The exam will cover as many different topics within that section as possible.
  • Why was the word “strategy” removed from the first section? Our comprehensive practice analysis study found that an HR professional is primarily focused on implementing and managing HR programs. It is the senior HR professional who is primarily responsible for developing and analyzing strategies.

Here’s a look at some possible scenarios and how you might want to proceed:

I have taken the PHR before and did not pass. Should I test before the new exam comes out or should I test after?

That depends on you and your experience. Do you have experience performing most of the responsibilities on the current PHR/SPHR Exam Content Outline? If so, you may wish to test before the PHR changes. If not, then review the new PHR Exam Content Outline. If your current HR experience matches the new outline, then you may want to test on August 1 or later.

I haven’t tested before, but I have invested in study materials and/or classes that are linked to the PHR/SPHR Exam Content Outline in effect prior to August 1. Does that mean I have to test before the change?

No, you do not have to do so, but may wish to do so. The exams are based on the exam content outline that is in effect at the time you test. They are not based on preparation materials or classes.

A colleague told me I should sign up for both exams and only take the PHR if I don’t pass the SPHR. Is that still a good approach?

A professional certification exam is not something you can just study for since you will be tested not just on knowledge, but on your ability to apply your knowledge in answering practice-based questions. If you are not currently operating at a senior HR professional-level, then the PHR exam is probably the only one you should take. However, if you are determined to take this approach, be sure to schedule both appointments on or before July 31, 2018.

What happens if I have a medical emergency that prevents me from testing by July 31?

If you must reschedule to take the exam August 1 or later, you will be taking the new exam. There can be NO exceptions, regardless of the circumstances.

I have HRCI Second Chance Insurance. Does this mean that I will have to retest before August 1, 2018, if I don’t pass?

Second Chance Insurance gives you the ability to take the same level of exam after a 90-day waiting period. However, depending on when you test the first time, your exam may be based on the new exam content outline. Make sure to review both documents at www.hrci.org/eco in case this happens.


PHR exam content outline changes occur every few years, but PHR exams are regularly updated to reflect changes in HR practice, including changes in laws and regulations. Therefore, even if you test more than once under the same exam content outline, you would have encountered different questions on different topics.

Best of luck on your exam. HRCI looks forward to welcoming you into our elite community of certified HR professionals in the very near future.

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